Tuesday, July 11, 2017

POBB July 5, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 5, 2017
Ray Tate

Greetings, and congratulations.  You’ve found your way not to fake news or clickbait but to the weekly comic book review column known as the Pick of the Brown Bag.  A little pressed for time?  POBB tweets can be found via #PickoftheBrownBag.   

This week I look at the new book Blood Brothers.  I’ll also critique All-New Wolverine, Batman, James Bond, Justice League, The Rough Riders and the Unstoppable Wasp.  First, a look at the latest issue of Angel. 

In the television series, a cult kills Winifred Burkle, the science guru exception in the magic based universe of Joss Whedon.  

Played of course by Amy Acker

An ancient god possessed the shell of Fred, but the confused deity Illyria had nothing to do with the murder, and she was not happy with the cult’s actions.  

In the end she allies with Angel against conglomeration of evil Wolf, Ram and Hart.  In the series, Fred no longer exists.  In the comics, Illyria is a supernatural Ultraman to Fred’s Hayata.

Thanks to Illyria, Angel and Fred travel through time to uncover the roots of Angel’s visions/nightmares involving de facto Triffids.  

In previous issues they visited the prehistoric times of Illyria’s giant monster period.  In the latest story, the duo materialize during an era where Angel lacked a soul.

The tale could have been quite farcical with a comedy of errors blooming between Angel and the vampire Darla, also aboard the cargo ship.  The twins never meeting until the conclusion.

Instead, writer Corrina Bechko dispenses with the discovery early.  She dispels any overtly slapstick potential through vampire callousness.

The Whedon type vampires though cunning are limited in the depth department.  Complexity escapes them.  The vampires simply do not care that the newcomer is Angelus’ dead-ringer.  It’s a mere quirk.  

Added to these themes, Bechko introduces an x factor that alludes to a cult classic vampire film.  Furthermore, she brings back a cast member that seemed completely dispensable.  All these surprises and plot twists added to superb chemistry between the principals make Angel a worthy purchase.

Two brothers patrol Mexico.  One bro is a luchador.  The other a detective with the gift/curse of a magic eye that can see occult happenings.

Like last week’s Tarantula, Blood Brothers taps into the Santo vibe, albeit without the lurid sensuality.  That’s not to say that Blood Brothers is tame.

He glows in the presence of evil.

Violence and monsters abound, but it’s geared more to all-ages.  This was actually the target audience for all of those Luche Libre films.  Still, when detailing the origin of Detective Diego Soliz’s eye, co-creators Fabian Rangel and Javier Caba delve into mature matters.

The onset is certainly weird.  At a guess, some sorcerer threw a charm at the foxhole, and although it had the effect of a bomb, it also affected Diego in an unexpected way.  Unexpected since an enemy magic-user wouldn't grant a gift.

Back in the present, our heroes investigate a case right up their alley.

The theft and murder comprise more than just a typical Santo-Blue Demon mystery.  The crime infuses more history, therefore, more depth to the brothers.  At the same time, the McGuffin opens the door to another Mexican cinema staple, the Aztec Mummy.

However, the promise of a mummy is merely a piffle to draw the brothers to the real culprit.  I’d normally complain about the lack of mummies in a book or movie, but the actual identity of our museum infiltrator is very satisfying.

As President Pro Temp Teddy Roosevelt protects the assassin of President McKinley from a lynch mob stirred up by William Randolph Hearst, the rest of the Rough Riders face traps and death sentences set by Anarchists.  However, the strangest loop tossed by creator and writer Adam Glass involves Annie Oakley.

So, if you haven’t read Rough Riders volume one.  Take my word that with this chapter volume two is actually better.  I did have qualms about Glass turning McKinley’s assassination into a full-blown conspiracy, but Annie Oakley’s actions and reactions in addition to Pat Olliffe’s dynamite artwork send this second volume soaring way above the Spanish-American War in the premiere.  Annie's moment in the sun surpasses the double-team of Jack Johnson and Houdini.  Impressive none the less.

For those not minding spoilers, weigh anchor below the warning.



Annie Oakley died in the first volume of Rough Riders, but Thomas Edison fostered other ideas.  With the judicious use of alien technology, Edison went Frankenstein on her corpse.  The result is an amazing transformation fully appreciated here and perfectly rendered by Olliffe.

Not just Olliffe.  The characterization is is so good.  Glass has thus far portrayed Annie Oakley as anything but a genteel lady.  It’s likely accurate.  She exhibits no embarrassment over her nudity and only intellectually driven anger at being alive.  It’s just magnificent.

Wolverine wasn’t looking too good last issue.  She had spent her healing factor on the people of Roosevelt Island.  

She Got Better.

An alien virus infected the citizens.  The alien child vector’s last words were “Laura Kinney.”  What could have been a dour tale of never ending death instead through Tom Taylor’s writing became an uplifting story.

What could have become a heavy, preachy pretension instead turned into a strong drama with comedy beats, courtesy of an adopted son of the Wolverine Family.  The next chapter begins with Deadpool, in sincere Ryan Reynolds imitation, and Gabby waiting at Laura’s bedside.

The whole sequence between Deadpool and Gabby is worth the price of the book.  It's funny enough for inclusion in a film.  

Laura decides her job isn't complete.  So, she consults SHIELD.  Nick Fury with dialogue that emulates the delivery of Samuel L. Jackson concurs.

The way to bring the investigation to the next level requires a trip to the stars, and that’s where our guests become involved.  

You can make the argument that the Guardians of the Galaxy are everywhere solely due to the sequel’s success, but Taylor must have written All-New Wolverine far in advance of the film.  It would have taken stellar artist Leonard Kirk longer to render the illustration.  So, this must be an honest team-up.

The Guardians quickly jet along the likely flight path of the alien child.  Taylor uses the Guardians for not just comedy, nor plot device but to remind us how fragile our planet really is in the context of the universe.

I digest science shows, and I’ve seen plenty of Nova episodes high-lighting the myriad natural ways our planet can die.  Human idiocy rendered moot by a meteor or gamma radiation from a dying star that already burst millions of light years away.  We are so tiny.

As Wolverine and the Guardians meet the people who sent the alien child to Roosevelt Island, the secret of the planet and the destruction skitters into the light.  Taylor and Kirk foreshadow the slicing and dicing to come with Wolverine actually in her element, dark and deadly.  Not worrying about the body count or the damage she inflicts, and given the nature of the monsters neither need the reader.

Writer Jeremy Whitley and artist Veronica Fish pick up  the story of The Unstoppable Wasp where the previous issue left off.  Nadia’s friend Ying fainted because a group of girl geniuses got together to remove a bomb from her head.  Only in comic books does that sentence make any sense.

Whitley and Fish however relate the followup tale from original Wasp Janet Van Dyne’s point of view, and it’s doozy.

They start with Jan not-sleeping in bed and distinguish how Janet really isn’t the debutante she used to be.  Rather, how writers and artists portrayed her.  Cause I was one of the fanboys she speaks of.

My first encounter with the Wasp occurred naturally in a reprint of The Avengers debut.  Kirby of course made her very interesting to look at, and she did more than Sue Storm at her early stages, but yeah, I'll admit it.  I thought Ant-Man was the motivating force.  It wasn’t until years later that I found out about her origin.  And even later when I got a chance to read a reprint of Tales to Astonish.  

To be sure, writers tweaked the Wasp’s origin, but the basics remain the same.  She is the heir to the Van Dyne scientific fortune.  Dejected over her father’s murder, she asks Ant-Man to give her superpowers to find the perpetrator.  Originally, the Wasp was about vengeance, which explains why Lis Salander treats her as a spirit animal in the canonical triad of books.  The other thing I never considered, and this is a recent development is that Janet is Nadia’s legal Stepmother.

Nadia is the daughter of Hank and Maria Pym.  He hadn’t met Jan yet.  Nadia was born during the span that Hank thought Maria had died.  She dies for real later.  Meanwhile, Hank meets and marries Jan as Nadia is growing up in the Red Room.  Janet then has always been Nadia’s stepmom.  I’m amazed when a writer can delve deep into his subject and find original information that I didn’t know.  Maria Pym isn’t a retro-plant.  She’s in the original stories.  So Whitely intensely studied to produce this charming tale of bonding between stepmother and stepdaughter.

Justice League written by Dan Abnett ties into the current story streaming through Aquaman.  An Atlantean Donald Trump named Rath deposed Aquaman in the same way Donald Trump deposed sanity.  Of course, this is comics.  So, Rath began to stockpile magic artifacts that Aquaman dared not use.  He sealed Atlantis with Aquaman in it, and Murk, the watery Klingon introduced way-back loyal to Atlantis not the crown skewered our hero.  

Aquaman fell to the Underworld of Atlantis where he disguises himself as a mild-mannered scrimshaw carver.  Little do the undersea Bads know Aquaman is creating a Batman like figure to fight for the downcast.  Outside of Atlantis, Mera and Aquagirl await in Aquaman’s lighthouse.  

Mera came alive last issue of Aquaman when she learned Arthur lived.  This meant a renewed effort to break through the supernatural cast sealing Atlantis and Aquaman from her.  Justice League deals with the blowback of Mera’s assault.

The League investigate the whammies that threaten sea coasts everywhere and to their surprise they find a familiar face behind the waves.

Mera battles the League, but the League refuse to treat her as a real threat.  

Instead, they see her suffering and in pain.  They offer her succor.  The League transport Mera to the Watchtower, and they hash out their next moves.  Naturally, the Trouble Alert sounds.

It’s telling that Batman invites Mera to join the League.  Yeah, I know.  What happened to all the spoiler warnings.  The action, well illustrated by Ian Churchill, and the plot are actually incidental.  The humanity and kindness from the World’s Mightiest Heroes deserves to be read.  It's a rare story that loses none of its power even when you know the mechanics from page one to the last.

Batman continues to relate his second year tale “The War of Jokes and Riddles.”  The listener of this story is his lover, and he’s barding around the bedroom.  So, I hope they already had sex and they’re just biding time while they each catch breath.  Cause it would be rude and unwise otherwise to procrastinate.

Writer Tom King splits the story into three different paths: Joker, Batman and Riddler.  While Batman is essentially as advertised, the duel never the less bears even more interesting tidbits for longtime Batman readers.  For example, the Falcone family is in power.

The Joker sicks the Falcones onto the Riddler in the midst of making another ally.

King goes out of the way to smooth out a lot questions regarding Poison Ivy’s part in the Batman mythos.  Her new 52 debut occurred in Birds of Prey, but she briefly appeared in Detective Comics in stripped down villain form.  Exactly how she fits into Batman’s continuity was very much up in the air.  This discounts the Poison Ivy from Harley Quinn.  That’s a different context tangential to the DCU.  So, Ivy appears between years one and two.  She’s clearly an ecoterrorist, but her status as a true villain is debatable.  King's suppositions neatly fit with what we already know.

King’s story also creates an origin for a classic Batman villain, and that villain for the first time since probably the Bronze Age Detective Comics demonstrates an association with the Joker.  Unlike the Flash Rogues, Batman’s villains seldom colluded like they did on the Adam West television series.  Any alliance would be short lived.  Since each Batman villain possessed a different motive.  Any common ground would quickly deteriorate.

In addition to these aspects, King also characterizes Batman in his very specific way.  Batman recognizes that Falcone’s men are bad individuals, but he also accepts another side.  They are not wholly irredeemable.  His mental cataloguing of family, wives, sons, daughters grants credence to his mercy and reminds readers that bad human beings are dying.

James Bond expresses his disdain over his ally Selah Sax’s remorseless actions toward a disabled and done in foe.  That's consistent with Bond’s attitude in the books and film.  He doesn’t like to kill.  He sees it as a necessity.  Selah’s target is No-Name, a trophy hunting serial killer currently in the employ of the Saga Genji, keeper of the Black Box of the title.

With each chapter, Benjamin Percy’s James Bond keeps morphing into something more impressive.  The first part seemed a little derivative.  The second part made up for the lack of originality.  The third part gave us a novel fight and the inevitable Bond and Sax love-scene, extremely well done.  This fourth part is a spy vs spy take on Dashiel Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, with the Black Box filling in for the Black Bird.

The Black Box brings out the worst qualities in people, and the artwork of Lobosco imbues this want with a kind of mesmerism.  Felix Leitner also falls into a trance.

This allows Percy to reveal a kind a plausible schism between Bond and his old friend Leitner.  Bond takes out his old partner in crime in a superbly elegant fashion, sweetly eschewing the argument that Bond is merely a “blunt instrument.”  Bond however does not care what’s in the Black Box.  He’ll retrieve it because it’s his duty, or will he?

When faced with such a choice in For Your Eyes Only Bond chooses to defy his orders and eliminate the McGuffin.  In any case, Bond is in this to end the threat of Genji, and while he disappoints Selah Sax with his intentions of handing over the Black Box to the British Government, that decision may be short-lived.  So may be Selah Sax.

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